Leicester lockdown backlash as city mayor pleads for bailout cash

Leicester mayor pleads for bailout cash to stop firms being crippled by new closure orders – as it’s revealed he broke restrictions to visit his girlfriend

  • Sir Peter Soulsby demanded a bailout for struggling businesses in Leicester
  • Police commissioner criticised ‘drip-feeding’ of information from Whitehall
  • Non-essential shops in Leicester have closed and schools will shut Thursday 

A furious row broke out yesterday over the Government’s decision to put Leicester back in lockdown.

The city’s mayor demanded a new bailout for struggling businesses and police complained they needed clear instructions on enforcing restrictions.

The local police commissioner also criticised the ‘drip-feeding’ of information from Whitehall to agencies on the ground. 

There was anger that a map showing which parts of the city and surrounding areas were subject to the lockdown only emerged ‘well after’ it had been announced.

Niall Dickson, head of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service providers, said the lockdown had been ‘clouded in confusion’, warning: ‘What has happened in Leicester could well be repeated elsewhere and we need a transparent approach for any future local lockdowns with clear accountability and public messages that are transparent, consistent and timely.’

Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby (pictured) today demanded a new bailout for struggling businesses as police complained they needed clear instructions on enforcing restrictions

Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby called for a bailout and said he was ‘very, very concerned’ about the economic impact on the city, which has seen a spike in coronavirus cases in the past two weeks.

Non-essential shops that reopened a fortnight ago were told to close yesterday and schools must shut once more to most pupils from today. 

The nationwide easing of restrictions this Saturday – including the reopening of pubs, hair salons and restaurants – will not extend to the city.

Residents were advised to stay at home as much as possible and warned against all but essential travel. The lockdown zone includes 147 local authority-controlled schools which must close tomorrow except for the children of key workers.

The zone also takes in 239 restaurants, 196 hair salons or barbers and 182 pubs.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said any Leicester employers who have used the furlough scheme up to now could re-furlough employees. 

Yesterday shopping streets in the city centre continued to throng with people. 

Gallowtree Gate in Leicester today as locals brace themselves for the new lockdown after a coronavirus surge

Leicestershire Police Federation said it would be ‘impossible’ to manage the situation solely by relying on the public’s ‘common sense’.

Figures released by Leicester City Council yesterday showed that 3,216 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed since the start of the epidemic, with almost a third of those – 944 – reported in the last two weeks. 

Alarmingly, the percentage of young people aged 18 and under being diagnosed with the virus in Leicester has trebled from five per cent to 15 per cent over the last six weeks.

Dr Jon Bennett, of Glenfield Hospital in the city, said staff first noticed an ‘upsurge’ in coronavirus admissions three weekends ago. A quarter of the hospital’s 80 current Covid patients are now on oxygen support.

Dave Stokes, of Leicestershire Police Federation, said his members would be assessing the ‘practicalities’ of the new lockdown.

Mayor urged to quit for breaking rules 

Pictured: Leicester’s Sir Peter Soulsby

Leicester’s mayor faced calls to resign last night after he broke the lockdown.

Sir Peter Soulsby was forced to apologise when a newspaper revealed he breached rules last month by visiting his partner before restrictions were relaxed. 

The former Labour MP, 71, admitted ‘an error of judgment’ after he stayed overnight at partner Lesley Summerland’s home. Neighbours said he stayed with Miss Summerland, 64, up to four times a week. 

Sir Peter lives seven miles away. On May 1 he tweeted: ‘Stay safe at home.’ 

Leicestershire Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘Now we’ve got the situation where there is a huge spike in infections. 

Sir Peter Soulsby really should stand down. He has ignored the lockdown rules himself… he is culpable.’

He added: ‘It’s essential we get clarity from the Government as soon as possible on what the public can and can’t do in this targeted lockdown. As we have seen over recent weeks and months, if the guidance and messaging from Government is confusing for the public then it will be almost impossible for our colleagues to police.

‘We still wait for confirmation on what our colleagues’ exact roles will be in policing, and potentially enforcing, this ‘Leicester Lockdown’, and what legislation our members will be asked to use. 

We have seen examples from across the country that ‘common sense’ is impossible to police.’ 

Police and Crime Commissioner Lord Willy Bach accepted the new lockdown was justified, but added: ‘Amazingly we were not even provided with a map of the (lockdown) area until well after the announcement. That has now been issued, but, unfortunately, we received minimal guidance regarding practical implementation at the time the measures were imposed.

‘I have a great deal of sympathy with the agencies charged with delivery. They needed clarity from the start and I am astonished that it is being drip-fed as the day progresses.’ 

He said Leicestershire Police will ‘continue to use the four Es (Engage, Explain, Encourage, Enforce)’, but warned that without additional legislation, officers’ powers remain limited.

Earlier yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said extra testing in Leicester over the last ten days had found an ‘unusually high incidence’ of Covid-19 in children. He added: ‘Therefore, because children can transmit the disease – even though they are highly unlikely to get ill from the disease – we think the safest thing to do is close the schools.

Leicester is one of the most ethnically diverse places in the UK, where only 45 per cent of the 330,000 population identify as white British. The city’s infection rate is three times higher than in Bradford – the next worst-affected area. 

Doctors in Leicester say they first noticed a surge in cases three weeks ago – but it was not until yesterday that the Government published full data showing the extent of the outbreak. 

The Department of Health said: ‘Public Health England began continuously sharing data with the local director of public health as soon as a spike in cases was identified.’

Leicester’s Labour mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, 71, who has criticised ministers over city’s new lockdown broke Covid rules himself to visit his girlfriend 

By Amie Gordon for MailOnline

The Mayor of Leicester broke lockdown rules to visit his girlfriend and stay at her house overnight. 

Sir Peter Soulsby, 71, flouted the lockdown to go and see his partner Lesley Summerland, 64, and carry out maintenance on her home throughout April and May.

Neighbours filmed the Labour Mayor at Ms Summerland’s home on several occasions as he arrived ‘carrying overnight bags and shirts.’

Last night, Matt Hancock confirmed Leicester – a city in the East Midlands home to 330,000 people – would face a two-week lockdown extension. 

Sir Peter Soulsby, 71, breached the rules to see his partner Lesley Summerland, 64, and carry out maintenance on her home

Neighbours filmed the Labour Mayor at Ms Summerland’s home on several occasions. Above: The mayor was filmed climbing a ladder while Ms Summerland leaned out of a window 

The streets of Leicester were almost empty in parts this morning as residents responded to the warnings about a coronavirus surge 

The city’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, today told a press conference he wished ministers had warned of the outbreak a ‘long time ago’ and revealed local health chiefs were still working through a ‘mountain’ of data to see where the virus is spreading

In the clips seen by The Sun, Sir Peter can be seen helping his partner with maintenance on her home and climbing a ladder to fit a window. 

Throughout May, the Labour politician used his social media account to urge residents to ‘stay safe at home’. 

Police spoke to the Mayor after the visits came to light and gave him advice about the restrictions in place. 

Speaking to BBC Radio Leicester last month, he apologised for the error of judgement and admitted ‘it was setting a very bad example’.

But he pointed to other ‘high-profile people’ who had flouted the lockdown. 

Sir Peter told the BBC: ‘I don’t think anybody would claim that there was anything in my behaviour that ran any risk whatsoever of spreading the virus.

Data shows how Leicester’s coronavirus outbreak has grown over time. The numbers compiled for England only include pillar one swab tests, which officials say are only given to patients with a medical need or key workers

‘It can be certainly interpreted as against the spirit of the lockdown, if not against the regulations.’

He said he was ‘ready to apologise’ unlike ‘some of the high-profile people who are far more influential in setting policy about this than I am’.

Officers said they would not be taking further action against him because the allegations, which the mayor admitted, were ‘historic’. 

Today, Sir Peter said the new lockdown in the city ‘should have been brought in much sooner.’ 

But furious Leicester residents blamed an explosion in coronavirus cases on ‘idiots’ flouting social distancing rules – as ministers warned people face arrest if they break a new lockdown being imposed on the city from today.  

The measures for Leicester first announced by Mr Hancock in a dramatic statement to the Commons last night include:

  • All non-essential shops will close from today, with law to be rushed through to underpin the new restrictions, after 800-plus cases were recorded in Leicester since mid-June and the area accounted for around 10 per cent of all positive tests in the UK over the past week;
  • Schools will close from Thursday and will not reopen until next term, amid fears an unusually high incidence in children is driving the spread. They will stay open for vulnerable children and offspring of key workers;
  • People are advised to avoid all but essential travel to, from, and within Leicester and should ‘stay at home as much as you can’, but there is no formal travel ban at this stage;
  • Easing of lockdown in England on Saturday will not apply in Leicester, meaning pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas will stay shut;
  • Shielding measures will not be loosened in the city on 6 July, unlike the rest of England where the most clinically-vulnerable will be able to spend more time outside.

The Mayor today told a press conference that testing has increased in the city in recent days and weeks as he welcomed the lockdown. 

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: ‘The Secretary of State (Matt Hancock) announced that he believed there was an outbreak in Leicester the best part of two weeks ago.

‘Since then, we’ve been struggling to get information from them about what data they had, what led them to believe there was a particular problem here, and struggling to get them to keep the level of testing in Leicester.’

He said he had been trying ‘for weeks’ to access data on the level of testing in the city and was only given access last Thursday.

When asked whether a local lockdown should have been brought in earlier, he said: ‘If as seems to be the case, the figures suggest there are issues in the city, I would wish that they had shared that with us right from the start, and I wish they had taken a more speedy decision rather than leaving it 11 days from the Secretary of State’s first announcement…

‘That’s a long gap, and a long time for the virus to spread.’

ROBERT HARDMAN: The anger and despair of Leicester residents sent to, er, Coventry

So much for all these smart new post-Covid council signs erected all over the city which say: ‘Great to have you back in Leicester’.

As of this week, they might as well add: ‘But I’m afraid you’ve been sent to Coventry.’

Poor Leicester woke up yesterday to discover that it is the first place in Britain that must rewind the clock to the dark days of April after a localised second wave of coronavirus.

The city famous for unearthing a king in a car park (Richard III now rests in great state in Leicester Cathedral) has become famous again for being the first to go back to ‘lockdown’ – although it must be said that I could find absolutely no evidence of any enforcement here yesterday. 

This is no mere ‘spike’. A famously multi-cultural city that accounts for just 0.6 per cent of the population, Leicester now accounts for a whopping ten per cent of all cases of Covid-19 across NHS England.

So any return to normality has been postponed for at least a fortnight. While the rest of the country will see pubs, hotels and campsites reopening this weekend, Leicester has been told to go the other way. ‘Super Saturday’ will be ‘Sober Saturday’ in this part of the East Midlands, with ‘Sombre Sunday’ to follow.

Poor Leicester woke up yesterday to discover that it is the first place in Britain that must rewind the clock to the dark days of April after a localised second wave of coronavirus, writes Robert Hardman (Pictured: Vicki Chapple on her market stall in Leicester)

The city famous for unearthing a king in a car park (Richard III now rests in great state in Leicester Cathedral) has become famous again for being the first to go back to ‘lockdown’

Schools must close, along with non-essential shops – many of which had only just reopened – and people are being told to stay at home.

Pubs and restaurants that had been busy preparing to reopen are now tearfully putting the shutters back up.

Worse still, perhaps, is the fact that the residents now find themselves branded as outcasts. 

‘We’re like the Leicester lepers,’ sighs local child protection worker, Tracy Jebbett, calling in to BBC Radio Leicester to complain that her upcoming holiday to Cornwall has just been cancelled. 

The management of her St Austell campsite have just announced a ban on all bookings from Leicester and have told her she cannot come.

Social media, meanwhile, is buzzing with stories of Leicester lads and lasses planning to escape to neighbouring Derby or Nottingham for a night on the tiles this weekend. 

Anyone stupid or brave enough to head out of town in a Leicester City or Leicester Tigers replica shirt can certainly expect ostracism – or worse.

The local authorities have said they will ‘enforce’ restrictions but no one believes that for one moment. This is not Wuhan, and no one is expecting the proverbial ‘ring of steel’. But, thus far, Leicester is not even bothering with a ring of Dettol.

Of more immediate concern to the authorities is why this particular city should be suffering such an explosion of cases after a below-average rate of infection thus far.

The locals have plenty of theories, however. 

Pictured: Robert Hardman stands by a sign reading ‘great to have you back in Leicester’ as the city’s lockdown is extended

Pictured: The area surrounding Leicester which has been placed under extended lockdown

‘Parts of the city are very overcrowded and some people have been negligent because we were sailing along near the bottom of the infection league,’ says Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum think tank, businessman and former chairman of the county council race relations committee. 

‘We have a lot of factories. Leicester is mostly Asian and a lot of families have been visiting each other, thinking they were Covid-free. And now that has been found out.’

Despite widespread publicity about the disproportionate impact of the virus on members of ethnic minorities, and the number of multi-generational households here, Mr Moghal says the message has been lost on many. 

‘That should have made people take more precautions and older people, especially those with underlying issues, have done that. But the young take a different attitude.’

Talk of minorities is somewhat ambiguous. Leicester prides itself on being the most diverse city in Britain. The 2011 census showed the white population (50.6 per cent) would soon be a minority and subsequent polls suggest this is now the case.

However, some of the areas with the highest infection rates are those with predominantly Asian-origin populations on the eastern side of the city.

‘You just want to look at the local park at night,’ says Amit Patel, 26, boss of Milan Sweets in Evington, just down from the once-mighty Imperial Typewriter Factory. ‘There are 500 people in there watching or playing cricket at night.’ 

He only recently reopened his delightful shop and adjacent catering business, and has just brought all his staff back from furlough. Initially, business was back to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic turnover but, as of this week, it has slumped. ‘We can’t afford to shut down again, especially if there is going to be no government support.’

So does he expect Leicester to observe the renewed lockdown? ‘Some will. But others will go straight to the pub in Market Harborough.’

Military personnel set up a mobile coronavirus testing site Victoria Park, Leicester this morning

A resident walks along a street in the North Evington area of Leicester today amid the renewed lockdown measures

You need only venture off main streets like East Park Road to see some of the places where, according to the locals, fresh cases of the virus are rife. There are numerous small factories, many of them in the textile trade, that have recently gone back to work. 

The lights are on in cluttered workshops, the machinery is grinding away and staff are working at close quarters with no apparent sign of extra ventilation beyond the odd open window. Meanwhile, the gutters outside are littered with piles of empty nitrous oxide (or laughing gas) canisters, a sure sign of back-street partying.

‘Indians like to sit together and share food together,’ says Ali Siddiq, 56, offering me a piece of naan bread as he sits on a bench in Spinney Hill Park. ‘You’ve got houses on the Uppingham Road with shift workers living 12 to a house. That’s why this virus is here. But I am leaving it all to God.’

‘Go out on the streets in the morning and you’ll see all these workers heading for the factories,’ says retired council officer Masoom Jeraj, 69, whom I meet in Spinney Hill Park with his wife, Naznin. 

The couple have come here to get a coronavirus test at the walk-in testing centre run by a team from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglians. Everyone seems delighted to see Sergeant Ashley Ward and his team, four of whom are local Leicester lads anyway. 

‘I don’t see this as a task. It’s just something that needs to be done and we are pleased to help,’ says Lance-Corporal Peter Arnold, 26, formerly of nearby London Road.

I am offered a nose-and-throat swab test which is quick and painless with a result promised in 24 hours. I expected a long queue here but there is none at all.

After a while, Kalpesh, 44, turns up with his mother and five-year-old daughter. Kalpesh has been off work for several days with a headache. His doctor told him to see an optician – which he has already done – but he has now lost his sense of smell, too. His mother, he adds, has developed a cough.

I ask where he works. ‘Samworth Brothers,’ he says. Instant alarm bells. The giant food factory has already confirmed cases on its production lines. 

Kalpesh says he was planning to go back to work in the morning. So is he going? ‘I will wait for the results,’ he says. I wish him the best of luck.

The centre of Leicester is eerily empty, save for the market place. A restricted number of stalls are selling fruit and veg on the same spot where a young Gary Lineker used to work on his father’s stand. 

One of Barry Lineker’s former workers was Vicki Chapple who has long been running her own stall. She has stayed open through the pandemic and has sent plenty of fresh fruit to her sister, an intensive care nurse who has been ‘very poorly’ with the virus.

‘It really saddens me because it makes this city look bad,’ she tells me. ‘We are a strong city and we will bounce back. But I don’t like this idea of segregating the city. If you’re going to have a lockdown, it should be the whole county or else it won’t work.’

Out beyond the city boundaries, however, I find plenty of solidarity. The Bulls’s Head at Whetstone had been due to reopen this weekend and still could – but will not.

‘I had a big order of beer booked for this morning but I have just cancelled it,’ says landlady Jane Irwin. ‘We’d been really looking forward to seeing our regulars again. 

‘But we’re only just beyond the red line so some people might have been worried about other drinkers crossing the line. So we’ll just have to wait. We’ve done three and a half months of lockdown. What’s another two weeks?’

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